Dominoes and the Chain Reaction


When a domino is dropped, it can trigger a chain reaction that ends up causing the entire structure to come down. Hevesh is a professional domino artist who creates elaborate domino setups for movies, TV shows, and events—and has even helped set the Guinness World Record for the largest circular domino arrangement, which consisted of 76,017 tiles in total. Hevesh takes a meticulous approach to her work, making test versions of each section and filming them in slow motion. Each domino must be perfectly aligned and precisely positioned to fall properly, which can take several nail-biting minutes for the biggest installations.

The word domino is also used metaphorically in many ways, referring to the expected result of an event or to causal linkages within systems such as global finance or politics. The mechanical domino effect can be exploited to build simple machines, such as the popular Rube Goldberg devices, or it can be used in scientific and technological applications, such as analyzing the vibrations of an object or detecting an earthquake.

A domino is a small rectangular block made of clay, wood or ivory and sometimes bearing a pattern of dots or markings resembling those on dice. The identifying side of the domino has a line or ridge, while the blank or matching side is divided into squares by a line. Each of these squares has a different value, depending on the number of pips or dots on each domino. The standard domino set consists of 28 tiles, but progressively larger sets are available that add more ends with different numbers of pips.

While a large variety of games can be played with a domino set, the most common are blocking and scoring games. These are played with either a double-six or a double-12 set, and each player attempts to play a tile so that it touches one of the existing ends and thus adds to the length of a domino chain. The first player to do this wins the hand.

Other kinds of dominos are used as decorative pieces, or in arts and crafts, such as sculptures, mosaics, and tattoos. Historically, dominoes were also used as tools in military strategy and to mark trails or boundaries.

Dominoes are often made of natural materials such as bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips. Other materials such as marble, granite or soapstone are sometimes used in more expensive sets. More recently, polymer materials such as bakelite have become popular, owing to their durability and low cost. Occasionally, more luxurious sets are made from precious metals or ceramic clay. A few sets are even fashioned from crystal and other transparent substances. The more unusual types of materials lend a sense of novelty to the piece and often give a hefty weight that makes them feel more substantial. These sets are normally more expensive than sets of the traditional European variety.